Happy 233rd Birthday America!
Today is the day we pause to remember the men who put their lives, their families, their fortunes and their futures on the line by signing their names to the Declaration of Independence. Without them and that single act of defiance, there would be no United States of America.
From this standpoint, I'd say we are very close to being back in the same dire straits that existed in 1776. Thus across the length and breadth of America, patriots are holding "Tea Parties" today in honor of another event from Colonial Days, the Boston Tea Party when patriots made it very clear to their government that they were fed up, dissatisfied and on the brink of revolution.
England didn't pay attention back then. Very much like the current president who seems to be hell bent on digging us deeper into debt, weakening our position internationally and disrespecting the people who put him in office by telling the media he isn't aware of what is going on in the country that elected him to its highest public office.
Speaking of the president, I saw a film clip of him and his entourage boarding the Marine One helicopter on the lawn of the White House for a trip to Camp David for the holiday. That's OK, it is his right and probably his responsibility to get away from the White House for a little down time when he can. And I certainly don't begrudge him the time with family and friends.
But what I didn't like was seeing a Marine officer carrying his luggage to the helicopter! That is not what Marines do. If the president needs someone to carry his luggage, get a staff person to do it. Marine officers exist to lead Marines, not act as luggage handlers.
If you want to know about Marines and Independence Day, try this on for size.
When I began writing Masters of the Art, I had two reasons in mind: to set the record straight about most of us who served in Vietnam and what we did there; and to honor Sgt. Robert F. Starbuck, one of my Parris Island drill instructors, and Col. Paul W. Niesen, my commanding officer in North Carolina and Vietnam.
They both were men of extraordinary leadership qualities and both have impacted my life in ways that I suspect neither imagined back when we were Marines.
Both were unique in their strength of character, not to mention their physical strengths. In fact, a few weeks ago I participated in an event called American Warriors, an evening of theater and music presented by the Veterans Memorial Theatre Company a fledgling group in Connecticut dedicated to theatrical, non-political presentations on the full range of veteran experiences.
I sit on the board of directors and was asked to participate in American Warriors, giving some insight into the Vietnam experience. I read from Masters of the Art, but also spoke about the impact that men such as Sgt. Starbuck and Col. Niesen have on those they lead.
Col. Niesen was named Marine Aviator of the Year in 1969 after we returned from Vietnam for his incredible efforts and successes there. He completed a distinguished career in the Marines, and was honored by those he led at a reunion 20 years after our return from Vietnam.
Sgt. Starbuck was awarded the Silver Star, posthumously, for incredible acts of bravery and leadership when his patrol was under attack in Vietnam in 1967. A special award for exemplary drill field skills was established in Parris Island in Sgt. Starbuck's name after his death, and now his hometown is making sure that he will be remembered in the civilian world too.
Starbuck lived in Montgomery, New York, a small town just north of Interstate 84, and he is remembered fondly, but differently there. For starters, the man that I always referred to as "Sir" which is how it is done at Parris Island - I never even got to call him Sergeant - is remembered in his hometown as "Bobby."
Joe Devine, who knew Sgt. Starbuck before he became a Marine, is leading an effort to permanently memorialize his childhood friend. Joe emailed me about cermonines held on Memorial Day, noting, "We had a great memorial service for Bob Starbuck here on Saturday and our two local historians are working with some of us veterans to further memorialize Bob. We plan to ask out Town to name a new ballfield at our new park in memory of Bob and we also plan to install an educational kiosk about Bob there in his honor."
Joe also wrote an essay on the life of Sgt. Starbuck which included a few other things I didn't know about him: At age sixteen, Bob Starbuck (or Bobby as he was known) raised a Guernsey cow that won first prize at the Orange County, NY Fair and he went on to the NY State Fair at Syracuse with that blue ribbon cow.
The Starbuck home featured a large pond where every area kid was able to swim, complete with the leaches that swimmers of the time tolerated. Bob Starbuck attended the original Montgomery High School, which in his last year of school, became centralized with nearby Walden and Maybrook to become the Valley Central School District.
Bob was a great athlete, competing in baseball, basketball, soccer, and track. Walt Karsten lived near Bob Starbuck and he helped Bob practice his pitching, which were really 100 mph hardballs. Walt reported that each pitch was a stinger even with a good catcher's mitt.
Bob Starbuck was a powerful man, who never abused his size advantage. Bob graduated from Valley Central High School in 1960, attended Orange County Community College and, in 1961 he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.
At graduation from boot camp at the Marine training facility at Parris Island, Bob Starbuck was selected as the most outstanding recruit in his platoon. Starbuck requested sea duty and he was assigned to the guided missile, light cruiser Little Rock on a voyage to Cuba and the Mediterranean. About a year later, Bob was assigned as a drill instructor (DI) at Parris Island.
The full essay, which I highly recommend, can be read at Joe's website:
Another of Starbuck's childhood pals, Charlie Wallace, sent this remembrance: I attended the memorial for Bobby Starbuck. Bobby was my cousin. He was six months younger than I.
He is also the reason I am alive today.
When we were young boys (under 10) I fell through the ice on a spring across the road from his house. He pulled me out and got me to the house.
I do not remember much about the incident. I do remember a big down bed and people keeping me warm. I just finished your book, and was very moved by it.
I wasn't able to attend the Memorial Day ceremonies, but there will be another opportunity to honor my late drill instructor at a future date, and you can be sure I will be there.
Part of the reason can be found in the Silver Star citation: The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the Silver Star Medal (Posthumously) to Robert French Starbuck, Sergeant, U.S. Marine Corps, for conspicuous gallantry in action while serving with Company A, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, in connection with combat operations against the enemy in the Republic of Vietnam on February 3, 1967.
By his courage, aggressive fighting spirit and steadfast devotion to duty in the face of extreme personal danger, Sergeant Starbuck upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.
Far too often, the freedoms we enjoy as Americans are taken for granted. Far too often, holidays such as Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Independence Day are seen as an opportunity to have a day off from work, to relax, have a cookout, maybe attend a parade.
But far too often, the reasons we have these holidays and these freedoms are forgotten.
If it's not too much trouble, can you take a minute today to reflect on the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and the terrible price that many of them paid, including death, to give us this opportunity at a much better life. And can you take a minute to reflect on the sacrifices of men like Robert F. Starbuck, Col. Niesen and all the members of the Armed Forces who served in the past and are serving to this very day.
Without them, you probably would not be reading this.
Saturday, July 04, 2009